Sebastian Vettel breathes a sigh of relief after qualy strategy almost backfires
World Champ has to watch as rivals nearly snatch away pole
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 21/09/13 5:52pm
While Vettel's four closest pursuers - Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, Mercedes duo Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, and Lotus' Romain Grosjean - all committed to a second run in the final throes of the qualifying hour, Vettel opted for an early finish after recording a blistering lap of 1:42.841 at the start of the top-ten shoot-out.
At that stage, Vettel was an astonishing six-tenths clear of the pack, an advantage that both he and Red Bull deemed unassailable.
But as the World Champion looked on from the team's garage, Webber, Rosberg and Grosjean all threatened to cause a major upset by snatching away pole as track conditions suddenly improved, with the Mercedes driver ultimately crossing the line within one-tenth of his compatriot's benchmark time.
It was, as Vettel wryly admitted afterwards, far too close for comfort.
"In the end it was very close and it's not the best feeling in the world when you stand there and watch," Sebastian confessed. "It was very close. If it had gone the other way then we would have looked like idiots so in that regard it was a big relief. Next time, if I have to choose, I would go back out in the car.
"I knew we had a cushion and that's why we decided not to run again. But the thing you don't really know is how much the track can improve. If you run again, you get a better feel for the car and tyres and can get a bit more out of yourself as well.
"In the end it was close, but fortunately my last sector was good enough [to stay in front]."
But it wasn't only Red Bull and Vettel who were caught by surprise by the extent of the improvement in lap times enjoyed by those drivers who committed to a second run at the end of Q3.
"I didn't expect such an improvement," admitted Rosberg, "I couldn't explain it."
Vettel has looked a class apart all weekend, particularly when running on the faster super-soft compound. With the 41st pole position of his endlessly-improving career in the bag, a third successive victory would all-but secure a fourth consecutive title.
He hardly needs the help, but the failure of his title rivals to mount any sort of challenge on Saturday - while Hamilton was a subdued fifth, Kimi Raikkonen failed to make the top-ten for a second successive weekend, and Fernando Alonso was once again out-qualified by departing Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa - only served to underline the absolute supremacy of his position. Get ready for Sebastian the fourth.
"We don't really look at what the others are doing, but the Ferrari has been struggling in qualifying at the last two events and normally has very good race pace. I'm sure they will come back, but obviously it's no harm for us today," added Vettel.
"Our race pace looked very strong on Friday and so if all goes way then we should have a very good chance of getting a strong result."
Which is Vettel's way of saying he expects to win - and so far this weekend, he has looked a racing certainty for victory from the word go.